Haydn’s Quartets are to music what Pascal’s Pensées or Alain’s Propos are to philosophy: they make up as many spontaneous and ephemeral moments of a thought about to occur as the reader (or listener) must reconstruct in order to realize /appreciate their universal impact. It is this thought which this book proposes to explore. In so far as it involves the language of music, by nature non-semantic, and therefore difficult to conceptualize, as often as possible, Haydn is left to speak for himself, that is to say, in essence his music is left to speak for itself since the composer himself said very little about his art during his lifetime.
The writer has chosen four different and complementary angles of approach – four viewpoints which, linked together, reflect the movements of a quartet: 1) Variation, or the problematics of unity in diversity, which is the core of Hadyn’s compositional method; 2) Emotion or where Hadyn’s style can be placed in relation to the notion of musical classicism, itself a complex notion both from a historical and from an aesthetic point of view; 3) Humour and spirituality, or how Haydn questions his art by intentionally including “nonsense” in order to enlighten the composing conventions of his time; 4) Counterpoint, or how Haydn succeeds in blending the pleasing, galant style with the clever complexity of the most daring arrangements.
Of course, such juxtaposition is bound to lead to as many omissions as repetitions. Nevertheless it reflects Hadyn’s intellectual approach perfectly, which was essentially empirical and therefore potentially open to an infinite number of interpretations. “There are points of view that provide food for thought. This is clearly the case of Frédéric Gonin’s reflections on Hadyn’s string quartets."
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